Fresh cooking tips from France

“Once you make’ll make it all the time.”

Tastes from a French kitchen: sausage with tomatoes and yellow rice, braised broccoli, melon salad, green salad, stuffed mushrooms and fruit tartlets (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Tastes from a French kitchen: sausage with tomatoes and yellow rice, braised broccoli, melon salad, green salad, stuffed mushrooms and fruit tartlets
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
 Our friend Susan Hermann Loomis, author of the new book In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France, gave a cooking presentation recently at Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles.
The last time we saw Loomis was over 30 years ago, when we were at La Varenne cooking school in Paris. Loomis still lives in France and teaches in an old convent that she transformed into a cooking school called On Rue Tatin, in Louviers in Normandy, about an hour from the French capital.
At the tasting of dishes from Loomis’s book, we loved the rougail, a colorful Creole specialty of the island of Réunion, a French protectorate east of Madagascar. The delicious entrée of sausages in tomato sauce flavored with fresh ginger, hot pepper and lime zest was served on a bed of yellow rice. Loomis described it as a simple family dinner that her well-traveled friend Eloise prepares after looking over her kids’ homework. (See recipe.)
As an accompaniment, Loomis served braised broccoli. “Braising is the perfect way to prepare everything,” she declared, especially vegetables. Loomis highly recommends this method because when vegetables are cooked through, they give you all their flavor. Her broccoli cooks with garlic, onion, thyme, bay leaf, olive oil, a little water, salt and pepper, just long enough to make it tender. (See recipe.)
A French meal always includes an appetizer, said Loomis, but it can be as simple as a radish served with sea salt and buttered slices of bread. To prepare it, trim off the root of a radish but leave a fresh leaf or two. Dip the radish bottom in a bit of salt, take alternating bites of the radish and of the buttered bread, “and it’s the best thing you ever ate.”
The salt Loomis prefers is sel de Guérande from Brittany, which is harvested by hand and is actually mineral-rich “evaporated sea water.” Fleur de sel, which forms on top of the salt marshes when the dry east wind blows, is not for cooking with; Loomis calls it “the ultimate finishing salt.”
“We always have a salad after a meal – always,” emphasized Loomis – a green salad with a mustard-flavored vinaigrette. (See recipe.) “It wouldn’t be a meal without it.” The salad is served after the main course because it helps digestion.
“Once you make it,” said Loomis, “you’ll make it all the time.”
There’s a proper way to eat green salad in France. The French don’t cut lettuce at the table with a knife. It’s a faux pas to do so at a meal. To be kind to your friends, advised Loomis, tear the leaves in bite-size pieces before dressing the salad.
According to Loomis, who is originally from Seattle, Washington, a notable difference between the Americans and the French is that the French “are not afraid of their food.... They are not afraid of butter, they’re not afraid of oil and they’re not afraid of wine.” 
Susan Hermann Loomis’s friend Eloise makes this flavorful Creole dish for her three young children, and they love it. If you would like your dish to have more heat, Loomis advises crushing the hot pepper. With this hearty, spicy dish, she serves a red Corbières wine from southern France.
Makes 4 generous servings.
For the rice:
■ 1 cup (195 gr. or scant 7 oz.) basmati rice, rinsed
■ 2 tsp. ground turmeric, or as desired
■ ½ tsp. fine sea salt
■ 1 fresh bay leaf (from the Laurus nobilis) or dried
Place broccoli and onions in a heavy-bottomed skillet.
For the rougail:
■ 500 gr. (about generous 1 lb.) fresh smoked meat or chicken sausages (preferably not lean), pierced with a skewer in several places
■ 2 large onions, diced
■ 2 large cloves garlic, green germ removed
■ A 1.25-cm. (½-inch) round fresh ginger, peeled
■ An 840-gr. (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes
■ Zest of 1 lime, minced
■ 10 sprigs fresh thyme
■ 1 fresh bay leaf (from the Laurus nobilis) or dried
■ 1 birds’-eye pepper or other hot pepper (optional)
■ Fresh herb sprigs, for garnish
For the rice: Place rice grains in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups (500 ml.) water, the turmeric, salt and bay leaf and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat so water is boiling gently and cook until there are holes in top of rice, and water has evaporated below surface of rice. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and do not remove cover. Let stand until ready to serve, at least 10 minutes.
For the rougail: While rice is cooking, brown sausages on all sides in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, about 6 minutes. (If using lean sausages, brown them in a generous tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.) Transfer sausages to a cutting board.
Place onions in pan and cook, stirring, until they are golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, stir, then add tomatoes with their juices and stir, breaking them up into large pieces as you stir. Reduce heat to medium and add sausages, thyme, bay leaf and hot pepper. Season with salt and pepper, stir, and cook until mixture is boiling, then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until sausages are thoroughly cooked through and sauce has thickened, 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove herbs and hot pepper from rougail. Adjust seasoning.
To serve, divide rice among four shallow soup bowls.
Divide rougail among the bowls, placing it atop the rice but leaving some rice to show. Garnish with herbs and serve immediately.
Loomis usually cooks broccoli by braising because it’s quick and easy. Include the stems of the broccoli if they are fresh.
Makes 4 servings.
■ 540 gr. (generous 1 lb.) broccoli, florets separated into bite-size pieces, stems peeled and cut into 1.25-cm. (½-inch) chunks
■ 4 small (about 30 gr. or 1 oz.) spring onions, trimmed and quartered
■ 2 cloves garlic, green germ removed, cut in matchsticks
■ 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
■ Sea salt, preferably coarse, and freshly ground black pepper
■ 10 fresh thyme sprigs
■ 1 fresh bay leaf (from the Laurus nobilis) or dried
Place broccoli and onions in a heavy-bottomed skillet.
Strew garlic over all, then add ½ cup (125 ml.) water and drizzle with the oil. Shake pan so everything is combined. Season generously with salt and pepper, then lay herbs on top. Bring liquid to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover pan, and simmer just until broccoli is tender, about 8 minutes, shaking pan occasionally and checking once to be sure broccoli isn’t sticking to bottom of pan.
Uncover pan, raise heat to medium-high and cook to dry out broccoli, shaking pan so it moves around in it, until it is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove herbs and serve immediately.
Loomis seasons the dressing of her colorful melon and zucchini salad with Szechuan pepper but notes that any flavorful pepper will do. Sauvignon Blanc is the wine she recommends serving with the salad.
You can make the melon balls and the sauce a couple of hours ahead and mix everything just before serving. Be sure to whisk the sauce before using. The melon is served on a bed of grated zucchini, which should be prepared at the last minute.
Makes 6 servings.
■ 2 ripe melons, peeled, seeded and cut into 1.25-cm. (½- inch) squares or scooped with a melon baller
■ 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
■ 3 shallots, diced
■ Fine sea salt
■ ½ tsp. freshly ground Szechuan pepper or other flavorful pepper
■ ¹⁄3 cup (85 ml.) plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
■ ¼ cup (3 gr. or 0.1 oz.) fresh mint leaves
■ 600 gr. (1¼ pounds) zucchini, grated on small holes of a box grater
■ Zest of 1 lemon, minced
■ Fleur de sel, for garnish
■ Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Refrigerate melon balls in a medium-size bowl.
To make vinaigrette: In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, shallots, pepper, salt to taste, and the oil.
Just before serving, cut mint leaves into very thin strips and whisk them into vinaigrette. Pour three-quarters of the dressing over melon balls and toss gently.
In a large bowl, toss grated zucchini and lemon zest with a fork so it is well mixed. Add remaining vinaigrette and toss thoroughly.
To serve, divide zucchini among six plates, making a circle of the zucchini in the center of the plate. Evenly divide melon salad among plates, placing it in center of zucchini circle.
Garnish with fleur de sel and mint leaves, and serve.
This vinaigrette is good with green salads, grated carrots or beets, fresh tomatoes, or any other vegetable mixture, wrote Loomis. If you have any left over, you can use it to drizzle over steamed fish, chicken or vegetables, or as a dip for fresh bread.
Makes enough for 6 to 8 after-dinner green salads (with about 10 cups mixed salad greens).
■ 2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
■ 4 tsp. red wine vinegar
■ Sea salt
■ 3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) mild oil, such as peanut oil
■ 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
■ Freshly ground black pepper
■ 1 small bunch fresh chives, minced (optional)
Whisk together mustard, vinegar and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the mild oil until mixture has emulsified, then whisk in olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in chives and taste again.
Faye Levy is the author of the three-volume Fresh From France cookbook series.